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What do the teen pregnancy rate and abstinence-only funding have in common?

Both are on the rise.

On December 5, 2007, Mike Stobbe, AP Medical Writer, wrote an article that reported a 3% increase in the teen birth rate---the first increase in 14 years.

For some reason, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were surprised.

I'm not.

I fully expect that the teen birth rate, and rate of STDs, will be on the rise. I attribute this to the absolute failure of the only sexual education program taught in schools: abstinence-only.

As I stated in my post, "Abstinence only sex education is risky and ineffective," the abstinence only program---which received $168 billion in funding in 2005, and has only received more funding since---uses an approach to education and discipline that any parent knows is likely to have a high failure rate: Don't Do It Because I Said So.

In fact, I cited three reasons why I believe the abstinence-only programs are a failure:

1. Mixed messages about group think
2. One size does not fit all
3. The irony in the negative

But don't take my word for it:

* In 2005 a study funded by the Texas Department of Health concluded that, "Abstinence-only sex education programs have had "little impact" on Texas teenagers' behavior." (Source: Medical News Today, "Abstinence-Only Sex Education Programs Have Little Effect on Texas Teenagers' Behavior, Study Says," February 2, 2005.)

* A national study funded by Congress, tracked the abstinence only program beginning in 1997, and concluded the same thing as Texas: ". . .abstinence-only sex education does not keep teenagers from having sex. Neither does it increase or decrease the likelihood that if they do have sex, they will use a condom." (Source: The Washington post, "Study Casts Doubt on Abstinence-Only Programs," by Laura Sessions Stepp; Saturday, April 14, 2007; Page A02.)

These conclusions are intriguing since states contributed matching funds to the federal abstinence only program, and funding has continued to increase despite the multiple studies---some state-funded and some privately-funded---that all conclude the abstinence-only programs are ineffective.

Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.---director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania---said in his article, "Blind faith on sex-ed approach puts kids at risk"
Actually, you cannot expect abstinence-only sex ed to be protective, effective or in any way useful at all. Ever. Period. Enough already. It's time to pull the plug on abstinence-only sex education. There are too many lives at stake to put up with a reproductive-health policy that is willing to kill and disable our kids out of an allegiance to a blind faith in something that does not work.

I agree, and I think Democratic candidates do, as well. Or do they?

They seemed to change their mind from one season to the next.

In May, according to NPR, "Democratic Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, made it clear that Democrats do not intend to re-fund a $50 million grant program for abstinence-only sex education. Dingell says he considers the funded programs 'a colossal failure.'"

"Democrats would still include money for abstinence teachings in schools, but would combine it with comprehensive sex-ed program* that would teach about birth control and other safe sex methods." (Click here to read the full USA Today article.)

The abstinence-only grant was set to expire on June 30, 2007.

However, despite Democrat statements and the factual studies that revealed the fallibility and lack of efficacy of abstinence-only education, in June, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations voted to increase federal funding for community based abstinence-only education programs (CBAE) in this country by $27.8 million.

In November, the increase amount was officially set at $28 million for a grand total of $141 million. President Bush would like that amount increased to $204 million for 2008.

This brings the grand total of money spent on abstinence only education to over $1 billion dollars.

(Source: SIECUS press release.)

What happened to cutting funding? What happened to responsible sex education?

I don't think we need to ask the Republicans how they'll vote when it comes to funding abstinence-only programs in 2008. Despite facts, studies, evidence, and this new teen pregnancy rate increase, I feel fairly sure they'll vote in favor of the increase.

This leaves us with the will they vote?

Here's what I discovered (after an unbelievable amount of digging):

Senator Clinton and Senator Obama both favor programs* that teach both abstinence and traditional/comprehensive sex education. Both have created programs to decrease teen pregnancy. Senator Obama's was focused to minorities.

Edwards, Gravel, Kucinich, and Richardson also support the mixed program.*

Senator Dodd does not support abstinence-only programs and is vocal in his criticism of the Bush program.

Joe Biden has voted to fund abstinence-only education programs.

* The program, specifically, is the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act. In short:
The Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act, sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Christopher Shays (R-CT), would provide federal money to support responsible sex education in schools. This education would include science-based, medically accurate, and age appropriate public health information about both abstinence and contraception.
(Source: Advocates for Youth.)

My question to the Democrats is this: despite stated support for the REAL Act and continued verbal support of funding decreases, funding continues to increase. If you were elected President, what would you do with the existing sex education programs?

My question to you is: What would you like to see the new administration—who ever it is—do about sex education programs?

cross-posted at Moms Speak Up and The Political Voices of Women. Check out both site...there's some great new information up, besides my article. ;)

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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Julie, I'll be checking in to hear what your American posters say. Excellent post again. I'm learning a lot about American politics/government through your blog.

Aliki2006 said…
This is a dynamite post, Julie--a must-read. I don't have time now to pull my thoughts together, but I will be back soon to read the comments and post one of my own.
Chris M said…
Bravo! Truly a great and comprehensive post on a very controversial subject (the controversy is really in the minds of those who are terrified at the idea that teenagers might actually have sex).


As an American I can tell you that much current government policy stems directly from the Republican Party's "Southern Strategy" which is targeted at Bible Belt southern conservatives. The idea is to get this vote by pushing through legislation that adheres to their particular viewpoint. It makes it a lot harder on those of us who require a little thing called "evidence" when making broad policy decisions. The Southern Strategy targets about 30% of our electorate who are very authoritarian minded and thus vote very monolithically. It has been remarkably effective but is finally showing some real signs of strain. The combination of a Republican Presidency and a Republican Congress from 2000-2006 has done a wonderful job of showing the rest of the country the problems with the policies they espouse. Unfortunately, we're now in a position where those policies are in place and changing them will be a big challenge moving forward.
Liv said…
I'd like to introduce my "scared abstinent" program which is like "scared sober" but instead will show kids the indignities of pregnancy and childbirth. (no, I'm not joking) I really remember seeing my mom's friend giving birth in the early nineties and making the decision to firmly close my legs. I'm a success story, yo.
Chris M said…
I'm glad that worked for you Liv. For me, the "Condom" program worked wonders in that area. Had good sex with someone I cared about deeply (and still care about) and never had any pregnancy issues or STD issues.

My High School actually talked about STDs and condoms. Good Sex Ed really works. Abstinence-ONLY programs do not. This is demonstrable as Julie points out.
flutter said…
I think the only way to teach sex ed is to teach all of the options.
Julie Pippert said…
I agree, Flutter, and the success of that has example in these comments.

Liv got information and elected a safe choice: abstinence.

Chris got information and elected a safe choice: condoms and care.

I think we need to arm kids with facts, guidance, support, and most of all the information they need to make the right and safe choice for them.

But I don't think it's a surprise that I advocate responsible sex education.

In the end, the kids will make the choice and we need to make sure they are enabled to succeed.
Amie Adams said…
I have just never understood the folks who think that a lack of information will prevent sex from happening. It's infuriating to me.

I'm glad the statistics are proving the point.

Terrific post Julie!!
Mad said…
As you know this issue makes me want to hit my head repeatedly against a wall until my eyeballs bleed. Abstinence only can only ever fail because once children hit puberty they are sexual beings--that's biology. It is good to encourage abstinence and, more important to encourage self-confidence and self-respect around issues of sexuality but birth control and protection from STDs is vital.

In my city, there was a real backlash a couple of years ago against a new sex-ed curriculum that actually dealt with sex and sexuality in a nuanced way. Heck, it even acknowledged that homosexuality and masturbation not only exist but are NORMAL. Of course, shit hit the fan. After much public outcry, I believe the curriculum stayed. How it is taught on a classroom-by-classroom basis is probably a whole other story entirely.


Hey, are you gonna send me a list for the JPs. You always have so many applicable posts and I seldom have the time needed to dig them all out before linking to them.
jeanie said…
I think abstinence is a moral issue and therefore should be taught - in conjunction with self-esteem, your rights over your body, how your body works, what to do if you body wants what your mind (and mother) says no to, alternatives to doing the dirty with another being, if you do the dirty what may happen, how can you stop that from happening, how does that work, and finally the financial, economic, physical and social impact on the introduction of an unborn child - and man, it should be taught to boys as strongly as girls.

Jeanie In Paradise
dharmamama said…
Thought you might enjoy this from Jessica Hagy of

Seemed a propos!
Julie Pippert said…
OMS, C, that is HILARIOUS. And the funniest part of all was the unintentionally funny.

She has "withdrawal" adjacent to "abstinence."

It took me a full minute to get my mind out of the gutter, honest to abe it did.

And then I LOL, again. Literally.
Angela said…
I believe in being honest with my children, helping them to accept themselves, make good choices and behave responsibly. I don't believe that abstinence-only approaches to sex education can truly fulfill any of those objectives in my home. I wish schools could educate children honestly and give them the information they really need to keep themselves emotionally and physically healthy. Unfortunately, sex ed is hardly the only arena where they fall down on that front. Miserably.
Angela said…
I believe in being honest with my children, helping them to accept themselves, make good choices and behave responsibly. I don't believe that abstinence-only approaches to sex education can truly fulfill any of those objectives in my home. I wish schools could educate children honestly and give them the information they really need to keep themselves emotionally and physically healthy. Unfortunately, sex ed is hardly the only arena where they fall down on that front. Miserably.
Lawyer Mama said…
Can I just say ditto to Flutter & Mad? Too easy?

Hell, I have NEVER understood the mindset of some that hiding information is the way to get people to act in the way you want. Like Mad said, they're fighting biology here. Information can only help in such a biologically driven situation if they want kids to make rational decisions. Rationality requires information not fear. I equate abstinence only education with attempting to scare kids into compliance.
painted maypole said…
i would like to see them present more complete information. INFORMATION. not judgement on what is right or wrong, but information about the science of sex, how it works, what helps to prevent pregnancy and VD, and then leave the moral part of it up to the parents.
isn't it funny that all of your commenters, again, agree here...and yet it is not what your government is preaching??

Just like healthcare.

Karen Jensen said…
This is a terrific post--thank you. This is one area in which our puritan roots harm us.
Julie Pippert said…
PM, amen. That's it exactly.

Heidi, intriguing point. Of course, this isn't a random sampling and includes the views of a more moderate to liberal group. But that's a good point...and perhaps we are more numerous than we think. Perhaps we just aren't as reactive and vocal as other more conservative groups.

Professor, J, I agree. That brings up LM's point that it seems illogical and unreasonable to think that hiding information is a good way to prevent people from knowing things it is inevitable they'll encounter anyway.
I do think that the sample is somewhat skewed...but not as much as one might think. The blogosphere contains all types, after all. And an anonymous forum like this one should encourage all viewpoints...

Professor J. probably nailed it -- but it is interesting that your nation clings on to its puritan roots so much more fervently than most other western countries.
Emily said…
I went to the same high school as Chris. I have to say, although it was a little hokey, I think that our program did work. We had the facts and made choices.

I think it is hard for me to really get the complaints about inadequate sex ed because our school did give that kind of useful information.
Jenn said…
Okay, I am soooo late to the party on this one, but it takes me a while to catch up on my reading sometimes... anyway:

Brilliant. Thank you for posting this. Here's to changes in the way things are taught, what is taught and how it's taught.

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